The Indian Psychology Institute’s short introductory courses on Indian Psychology(1):
A survey of their long-term impact on the participants' life and work
IPI’s short introductory courses in Indian Psychology are meant to help participants explore what the Indian tradition can contribute to the field of psychology both in terms of theory and practice. The courses are based primarily on Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga and on his interpretation of the Vedas, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita. They encourage the participants to assimilate the course content at their own pace and help them integrate the content in their own life. They provide a learning environment in which participants can gain an insight into themselves as well as into the underlying theory of Indian Psychology, so that they can apply their learning to personal and professional spheres.
The Indian Psychology Institute organized its first Indian Psychology workshop in Pondicherry in 2007. Since then, short introductory workshops on Indian Psychology have been held annually. Between 2007 and 2014, IPI organized thirteen such short workshops and held one six-week long Summer School in 2012. In total 289 participants attended these workshops. Some participants attended more than one.
At the end of each workshop, a detailed evaluation form was given to the participants wherein they were asked to write about their overall experience of the course, their major insights, experiences, the things they liked or did not like about the workshop, things that should be kept and that should be changed, changes and influences they observed in themselves and in their perspective on life and work.
One of the things that stands out when one goes through these evaluations is that while almost every participant mentions to have taken back something positive from the course, there is hardly ever any negative feedback. Participants write about things like learning to silence their mind, becoming less judgmental, experiencing a vaster reality, learning to observe themselves more objectively, recognizing and acknowledging their fears and doubts more easily, and feeling positive emotions like compassion, harmony etc. In the overall evaluation the most frequent sentiment is one of gratitude. In other words, these evaluations seem to indicate that a vast majority of participants experienced major positive changes during the course.
However, these evaluations are written immediately after the programme, at a time when the writers may have been carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment. During the course the participants lived, moreover, in an environment that was very different from their ordinary work and life, and what they felt at that moment might not say much about the long-term effect of the course.
The present survey was conducted in order to get a better understanding of the long term impact of IPI’s short courses, and to get an impression on how well the participants managed to integrate the teaching of Indian Psychology into their everyday life and work.
In December 2014, when this survey was taken up, 169 participants had completed the last course they attended more than one year ago. Of six, we did not have a valid email address, so the questionnaire was sent out to 163 people. Out of these, 68 responded.
The following two questions were asked:
- Did attending the Indian Psychology Course(s) make a difference in your life? If so, could you elaborate on how this change happened, and in what direction it has taken you?
- Do you apply Indian Psychology in your professional life? Again, could you elaborate a little on the manner in which you are doing this?
Content analysis was done of all 68 responses. To this end, the responses were split into short phrases or passages that each dealt with only one issue or “theme”. Following the principles of Grounded Theory, the themes and tags used to describe the phrases emerged from the data and not from any prior plan or idea on the side of the researchers(2).
The resulting table has for each of the 588 response-items: 1) a code identifying the respondent, followed by the serial number of the phrase in his/her response, 2) the actual text of the item, 3) a main theme, 4) a sub-theme and 4) a tag. The tags were added to identify the kind of response that the respondent had given regarding the issue identified by the sub-theme. For example, the phrase “These have, in turn, helped me process my emotions better” was booked under main theme “Impact on self”, sub-theme “Developed positive attitudes” and tag “Better at processing emotions”.
The main-themes, sub-themes and tags were all numbered according to the sequence in which we wanted to discuss them in the report. Where several response-items had the same sub-theme and tag, additional serial numbers were provided to ensure the sorting would be systematic. To use the sequence in which one intends to report one's findings to sort one's data during coding, may seem to go against the ideal of letting the codes emerge from the data rather than from the researcher's preconceived ideas, but sorting the response items this way made it possible to get an overview of all items with the same or similar description. This often led to a merger of similar categories into a common one, or, reversely, to splitting categories with too many items into smaller ones. Seeing all items under one theme together often led to a rewording of the theme or tag so as to better describe the entire collection of items under it. This in turn could lead to a re-assignment of individual items under a different theme or tag. The ensuing process went through many iterations till a consensus was reached amongst the different people who looked at the data. The iterative process of sorting and finetuning codes made it possible to achieve a level of coherence in the coding that may not have been possible in any other way.
As we were aiming at an evaluation it was crucial to include all response-items. We made only two exceptions to this rule: 1) Meta-comments (like “it is difficult to write about Indian psychology”) and short connecting phrases without a content of their own; 2) biographical details that could give away the identity of the respondent. Both were removed from the other data only after a careful check that their removal would not have any effect on the outcome of the survey.
Reasons to join the course
Though this had not been asked for, many respondents wrote about their reasons for attending the course. The reasons they gave ranged widely; every participant who mentioned this issue came with a different goal in mind, but common themes were: dissatisfaction with mainstream psychology; wanting an introduction to Indian paradigms; applying IP in clinical settings; focusing on one’s personal growth.
The participants came from all walks of life, with diverse backgrounds in terms of age, educational qualifications and profession, but the common thread amongst the responses was that everyone was seeking a path for greater self-knowledge and was eager to feed this self-understanding back into the academic or professional sphere. These were amongst our criteria for selecting participants, but as the respondents in all likelyhood knew this, it is not fully clear what these responses indicate. Are they an indication (a) that this aspect of the selection process worked as intended, or (b) that the respondents gave answers they thought we would appreciate? The reader may keep this second possibility in mind when perusing the rest of this survey. We'll come back to it in the Conclusion. Two typical responses:
“I attended the course when I wanted a new perspective to answer questions that have pestered me and what better way than combining Psychology with Spirituality.”
“Until then [the course], I was learning about Western Psychology and feeling dissatisfied with what I was learning because it didn't really seem to go deep enough and left a lot of questions unanswered.”
For some participants, the course happened at the time when they were going through a rough phase in their life.
“I attended the course when I was a bit lost in life, the things and context I was routinely engaging with had lost its meaning and neither could I see an inspiring way forward that I could take. So I was feeling quite stuck.”
“This was a period when I had come out of a long battle in my personal life; looking at what next; searching the meaning and aim of life. There was so much of confusion and mental noise. Only one thing positive with me was my deep faith in God and a feeling of Divine protection”
“When I joined this course I was going through one of the toughest phase of my life. The course helped me a lot to take the challenge head on but with calmness inside.”
The course encouraged the participants to intensify the exploration of their inner selves, and the image of undertaking a journey was a recurrent theme. Many respondents expressed that the course marked the beginning of a journey, a quest for one’s real self and the true purpose of life. Respondents who mentioned this were typically committed to their own growth; they were ready for the next step and it clearly reflected in their responses:
“I found myself. I came home! The course took me on a personal journey of discovery”.
“These courses showed me greater possibilities of life and strengthened my quest for truth. The journey continues…”
The participants’ perspective on the course
Each course begins with an eight-day intensive programme at Pondicherry. These eight days have a highly demanding programme and set an intense pace for conceptual study, personal reflection and practical application. They are followed by 4 to 6 weekend sessions spread over a period of 6 to 9 months. This structure helps in maintaining continuity in the learning process. The course comprises multiple modes of learning that include lectures, group discussions, individual talks, and an individual project. The course does not follow a text-book, but encourages the exploration of the inner self, in line with the Indian focus on self-enquiry.
Many participants experienced staying in Pondicherry and being completely immersed in the activities of the course as highly rewarding. The ensuing weekends helped the participants to stay connected, reinforce their learning and apply it to their life and work. One of the participants expressed:
“The course was designed well. As the breaks between the 8-day intensive and the weekends helped with assimilation. It added to the smooth flow for the complete paradigm shift that I experienced in my personality.
Another participant echoed a similar feeling:
“I felt it [the course] was a free space where I was not judged and connected with people regardless of the age difference. No one judged how deep I went into a topic and left me to explore it for myself and make connections to real life experience. It took me out of my comfort zone and expanded, destroyed and reshaped my version of reality… I spent a lot of nights lying in the garden looking at the stars and feeling small and big at the same time.”
Environment and co-participants
What stood out in the appreciation of the overall structure of the course was the gratitude of the participants for the environment provided during the workshop. The participants were allowed to be themselves and this led them to open up and express themselves freely. One of the striking features observed every year was the depth of personal sharing that took place when the participants spoke about their projects at the end of the workshop. During the course there was also a general sense of wellness and harmony that was felt and expressed by the participants. A few of them even expressed that the atmosphere was filled with some sort of a “higher presence”, that there was some sort of a “divinity perfumed” all around. The presence of something bigger than themselves helped them feel connected to a vaster reality. Here is what one of the participants wrote:
“The atmosphere of 'spiritual intensity and divine presence' which was created in every session used to bring many changes spontaneously like understanding others in the right way. Life used to be focused and concentrated and the aim of life used to be very far-sighted and the path used to be clear. All cloudy and haziness used to go away.”
The non-judgmental and free space that was provided during the course was found to be really helpful for the participants to delve deeper into their self-exploration without any inhibitions. One of them wrote:
“I felt safe, free to understand and ready and open to observe myself at many levels, and kind of in right hands and place.”
The participants were also found to be highly appreciative of their co-participants and enjoyed the bond that the group shared as a whole. People were supportive of each other and together they created an environment of harmony needed for working on their inner selves. Having like-minded people and synced energies boosted their efforts on the spiritual path. In the survey, many expressed their sincere affection towards the co-participants and the spiritual bond they shared. One of them mentioned:
"The first-most and most important part of being a part of this course was meeting like-minded people. For me it was very heart-warming and HUGELY REASSURING to know that there did exist a tribe of people that was like me. Yes. There were people both young and old for whom spirituality was more than religion, who innately knew there is something bigger than all of us. For me to become a part of this group was a truly joyful, elevating and satisfying experience for which I was extremely GRATEFUL. Believe me I did not know that it was possible until it happened.”
“The collective wisdom of the facilitators and the participants was a huge influence, and I have no doubt that the sense of love and camaraderie that pervaded that room was transformational.”
Facilitators as co-travellers
In the experience of the respondents, an important factor that contributed to the positive effect of the course was the role played by the facilitators. The facilitators were found to be consistently encouraging: class interactions, questions and doubts were well received and they patiently heard the different perspectives of the participants. The informal interactions that took place between the facilitators and the participants were seen as highlights of the course. One of the most common factors that shone out in the survey was the participants’ heartfelt gratitude towards the facilitators. There was a general feeling that the facilitators were like co-travellers always willing to help, whether by their love and mentoring or by their understanding and insight. Also, their integrity and commitment to the study and application of Indian psychology was felt to be inspiring. This is what two of the respondents wrote:
“In the course I appreciated the manner in which the facilitators served as personal examples of Indian psychology. Their application of knowledge impressed me in that I felt simpler solutions to problems could be achieved through one's consciousness and that the agency for change lay within oneself.”
“… The unconditional love and mentoring from the facilitators during some very difficult moments of my life stand out as live examples of what is possible for human beings if we enter into the Sadhana.”
One of the most essential elements of the course is the project work undertaken by the participants during their journey of self-discovery. Each participant takes up a project on a topic related to Indian psychology and the aim of the project is to help them actively involve themselves in studying and researching something of their interest. At the end of the eight-day intensive as well as at the end of the course, a written and an oral report are presented. The participants enjoyed this process and during the course the project work became an opportunity for a greater deepening in understanding and regularity in practice of the aspect of Indian psychology that they were exploring through the medium of their projects. It helped them become more conscious of what they were studying and have a better understanding of its application in their lives. Here is what some of them shared:
“The research on the different minds / levels of mind left a profound impact in the sense that I was and am able to locate where impulse for movements, speech, and thought comes from.”
“Thanks to the self-study, the journaling and the revelations it made, I knew what I had to focus on. In applying what I learnt during the course I noticed a few changes in myself and in the way I responded to situations.”
“Working on mini projects on myself during these courses, some insight is gained which is very helpful and it has changed the whole perspective and attitude towards others and life.”
Impact of the course
As mentioned in the introduction, this study intends to explore the long-term impact of the courses on the participants in both, their personal and professional lives. Out of the sixty-eight respondents, no one reported a predominantly negative effect. Two believed that the course had made no difference in their life. One participant wasn’t quite sure if anything at all had changed in him, especially “when looking from within”. Four expressed that the course was only one of the factors contributing to the changes they experienced. In other words, depending on how one classifies the latter, 90% to 96% responded in the affirmative about the positive impact the course had had on their life. The degree and intensity of the difference the course had made varied from “a huge/tremendous difference” to an unspecified “made a difference”. In between these two extremes, there was a whole range of representations. Some felt that the course had made an “irreversible change” and/or that it had “changed the course of my life forever”; others settled with describing the change as “big”; a few found it difficult to put into words the way the course had impacted them.
It was interesting to note that seventeen participants used the same image that we saw in the evaluations made immediately after the course, that of undertaking a journey. The image of a journey came up in the context of the knowledge they gained, the processes and attitudes they adopted and the insights they acquired in order to change themselves.
Self awareness: going within
The change that was most frequently highlighted by the participants in the survey was an increased self-awareness, a greater ability to look at themselves objectively and observe all that constituted their being. They felt that they had become more conscious of their everyday actions and reactions and felt more aligned with a higher purpose. This awareness helped them find a greater purpose in their life. Here is what one of the participants shared:
“Attending the course has been such a profound journey inside myself, offering me the opportunity to become more aware, more conscious of my inner self; giving me strength and courage to connect more and more deeply with my inmost self and lift up my aspiration towards something higher, meaningful and vast in life.”
There were others who spoke about how they gradually started recognizing the narrow and selfish parts in themselves, their ego, their vital, their need to please others, their anxieties and fears. In the beginning, encountering their weaknesses felt disheartening but once they were able to clearly perceive them it became easier to start dealing with them. A greater self-awareness along with the methods provided for going within oneself was among the most common takeaways from the course. Many participants expressed this inward turn as an extremely useful technique to lead a more conscious life. As one of the participants mentioned:
“The IPI workshop helped me to change the direction of my attention from outside, from external guidelines to look inside and following inner guidelines from within. I developed the strength and faith in taking that direction, found it much more effective and [this] created a lot of joy and satisfaction in daily activities.”
This radical change of looking within instead of outside and finding therein new perspectives and directions was an important learning. And this “going within” proved to be not just a source of strength and hope, but also guided many of them to surmount various difficulties.
Increased knowledge and widening of perspective
Along with the changes within the self, the participants also acknowledged the important role of studying the integrated approach of Indian psychology and how studying it in depth helped them in increasing their knowledge and widening their perspective. The course gave an opportunity to the participants to deepen their knowledge of various concepts. For some of them a better grasp of Sri Aurobindo’s and The Mother’s teachings was a major takeaway. Here is what they shared:
“The subject matter covered during the course, Integral Psychology also had a big impact on me. I am now inspired by the Integral world-view and feel that it has the answers to the crisis we face today as a species. Conceptually and practically, I find it a wholesome and robust system and though I am currently far from it, I want to make my sadhana as integral as possible.”
“Sri Aurobindo's and the Mother's writings are extremely extensive, so it was good that in this course we got some important highlights on the Integral Yoga. This went a long way in explaining things and in the efforts of a beginning sadhak.”
For other participants the course was an entry into the world of Indian psychology wherein they found a space to explore and understand the theories and practices of the Indian psychological system. This was evident in responses like these:
“The exposure to different schools of Indian thought also convinced me beyond doubt of the superiority of the Indian philosophical traditions in regard to understanding human psychology - That the Soul or consciousness is the true subject matter of Psychology!”
“Participating in this course has been a deep and inspiring experience which helped me in gaining more knowledge and better understanding on the different aspects and complexity of human nature, having a clear guidance in approaching the vastness in Indian ancient scriptures and tradition.”
Along with the general understanding of the concepts, a few of the participants also acknowledged a deepening of their knowledge with respect to specific topics, for example:
“After that course my understanding of Bhakti has expanded and I now see Bhakti is not necessarily surrendering to an external object or person but to one’s own inner excellence/inner wisdom.”
“I would say what was most important was deepening my understanding of Indian perspectives on spiritual surrender.”
“The course helped me deepen my knowledge of Indian psychology at large and specifically the notion of Dharma.”
One of the other significant impacts this course had on the participants was that of deepening their understanding of the varied aspects of life and helping them appreciate the beauty and accept the diversity in the world. There was a clear widening of perspectives and understanding, for example:
“Earlier I used to think that everybody should follow the same technique, method and process for spiritual growth but after few academic sessions with IPI, now I am open and flexible in trying out new things with different children and teacher trainees. I am able to suggest different ways to solve the same problem which I had faced and solved. I am able to appreciate the uniqueness of each individual’s way of growing and how the divine helps each one in a different way.”
“My religious and spiritual pursuits have deepened and intensified. I find myself drawn more and more to Sikhism, also I have been moving towards a more eclectic approach with elements of Buddhism and inclusion of mindfulness techniques and practices.”
Goals in life
With increased self-knowledge and a better conceptual understanding, the course helped the participants to look at life with a fresh perspective and gave them new goals in life. From an increased clarity about their goals and priorities in life to a more in-depth understanding of themselves, the participants emerged stronger and more aware. A few of the responses are shared below:
“On the superficial end it gave me a great theory for the existence and cycle of life. It answered many of my questions such as 'why is this all happening? What's the point of it if some 70 years later I won't even exist? How do I do something when I know the scope of my actions is so small against the size of the world?' and so on. This new theory I learnt is logically sound. Also it is so positive that it gave me new vigour towards life. It also hinted at a million possibilities of knowledge to which I was oblivious. Plus it gave me a structure to understand things — about myself and the world — better. This was about the theory. On a deeper level, attempts to bring this theory in practice brought about immense change within.”
“I think I returned from the workshop with a 'big picture', which till today has been expanding………. The concepts and words I learnt during the workshop have found a way in my daily conversations with family, friends and my students.”
“I always somehow believed that all our life we learn 'outside-in'. We see, model, hear and analyse our behaviour accordingly. IPI strengthened my belief that the learning which happens 'inside-out' is the learning which defines our life path.”
Improved interpersonal relationships
Many participants felt that after the course they could relate to others in a more meaningful manner and they were more open and understanding towards their family, colleagues, competitors, clients etc. An increased empathy and respect for others made relations simpler and it was easier to see things from the other’s perspective. A resulting harmony in various conflicting interpersonal relations was observed which is very evident from the responses. A few of them are quoted below:
“I am more open, understanding and less demanding. I now realize that there are indeed several ways I can connect and communicate with others and share a sense of joy and fulfilment with them at deeper levels.”
“The biggest change is that now I feel more open and understanding to people who are very different from me in terms of ideology and habits”
“It broadened the scope of empathizing with humanity and made it immediately applicable to the people I worked with. Since I could see the varied ways in which one could approach this discipline, I continued to do this research with the IP framework in mind; which broadly helped me realize that fact that every experience is valuable and so is every voice.” [A therapist expressed this]
“Nothing could have helped and prepared me more to be the mother to my children the way the IPI course did. My second time journey as a mother has been so beautiful, that, one has to live it to know it. Words will never suffice.” [A mother expressed this]
Insights, tools and techniques learnt during the course
Self-observation and stepping-back
An increased self-awareness was amongst the important changes that respondents mentioned most frequently, and so were two techniques that were constantly repeated during the course in order to get to that state of self-awareness: those of “self-observation” and “stepping back”. During the workshop, participants learned how observing oneself from a distance and stepping back to take a larger view of oneself and the situation are critical steps in developing a deeper understanding of the self. Participants found these techniques to be highly effective and something that they could incorporate in their daily life post the course as well. Some of them shared their experience:
“The most helpful aspect of IP course is 'self observation' – i.e. becoming more aware of oneself in various parts of the being – and it also helped me understand some of the underlying principles (e.g. conflict, harmony) that govern events and people around me a little better. (I say 'a little better' because the more I see/try to understand myself and things around me, it only makes me more aware of the amount there is to learn, unlearn and relearn and eventually grow deeper...) And this also explains the direction it has taken me.”
“The biggest learning has been the process of self-examination and reflection that began in a more organized and systematic manner post the course. The ability to shine the torch on the niggling upset at the back of the mind/consciousness and open it up to get to the real problem has got better.”
“I have made attempts at learning to step back, watch my thoughts, reactions, before saying anything. I have found that over a period of time my irritation over things which do not happen, or get done has reduced. It is a small step but nevertheless, I find myself in peace which is important.”
Self-observation and stepping-back have been two of the most commonly applied techniques learnt in the course. Many participants gained tremendously from them and expressed their appreciation of them in their responses to the survey questions.
Remember and offer (surrender and aspiration)
Another attitude that worked for many participants was that of remembering and offering their problems, their fears, their doubts to a higher force, usually expressed as the Divine. This faith in a vaster reality than our own (call it as we may) helped many to deal better with pain and difficulties. Participants shared their experiences with this very enthusiastically, as they found it to be very helpful:
“Constant remembrance, in whatever I am doing, thinking, feeling, seems to bring me in tune with another vibration that calls for progress from within. Whenever I forget, which is more often than not, and then there is a renewal of the aspiration to remember and to open. I am also watching what it is that I am opening to. I am trying to locate a point within I can count on more than anything else.”
“Also in times of dire need and emergency appealing to the Divine, recalling “surrender” and “aspiration” are unfailing sources of help and support.”
“Offering: every time I observe some impurity within me; it is not possible to control at ego level, so sincerely offer it to The Divine. Remembering: Always remember Divine in each and every thing and Divine help will be always there.”
As a part of the course structure, short meditations before and after each session are always undertaken. This inspired a few participants to continue this practice back in their homes and workplace. In the responses many of them expressed that they have over time, become better at meditating; a few of them were able to silence their thoughts and emotions. The quest for many was to find and remain in touch with an inner peace at all times. Meditation proved to be an important technique that many participants continued to practice. Two of the shared responses are mentioned below:
“This course to an extent has awakened me spiritually. I learned to meditate far more freely than I used to before.”
“One important learning was to go during meditation into deep silence, means have a white screen come down and be disconnected from thought.”
Other attitudes and insights
On the whole, most participants learnt to be more true to their own selves. They became “more honest, more genuine, more transparent” in their dealings in this world. For some participants the course served as a reaffirmation of their own deep beliefs, whether in the subject of psychology, in their inner experiences or in their views on religion and spirituality. The course supported and reassured them in their own intuitive knowledge and experience. This support proved to be an immense help in building confidence and providing strength to validate and express their views. One of them shared:
“Having been disillusioned by how my psychology texts and research papers treated human existence and experiences, I was looking for an alternative way of understanding myself and those around me. Attending the course provided me with this perspective. It validated a lot of my experiences which did not fall under the definition of psychology taught in universities.”
Participants developed a variety of positive attitudes. They chose consciously to work on some aspect of their character and learnt to nurture it with the right attitude. To summarise the various positive attitudes that participants reported- they learnt to be more detached, found it easier to forgive, felt far more stable, experienced an increased sense of well-being and happiness and developed more patience, self-control, equanimity, strength and courage. Further, they experienced a deepened aspiration, an opening up of new possibilities and a renewed sense of hope and will to live; they also felt that their ability to observe themselves and process their emotions had improved considerably.
They also let go off many negative attitudes and spoke about reducing negative influences- they felt they were less judgemental, found it easier to let go off negative and harmful emotions and encountered fewer ego-based conflicts.
Application at work
The second question of the survey aimed at understanding the role of Indian psychology at work. Twenty participants reported that they were directly applying IP in their work. Some of them were doing research in IP, others were teaching it, several were using it in their yoga or counselling sessions. Apart from these twenty participants, there were a few others who were trying to use some of the principles of IP but not as much as they would have liked to, because they felt they did not as yet have enough knowledge and experience in the field. There were still others who expressed that they would very much like to apply IP in their work but that their circumstances did not allow it. A few specifically mentioned that they did not formally apply IP in their profession, though in their personal lives IP played a significant role. There was only one participant who did not want to apply IP in her work. The reason she stated was:
“Professionally, my bent [is] towards empirical approaches to study, as the reliance on introspective approaches has questionable reliability and validity in a global scenario.”
Area of application
The survey result brought out that the participants were applying IP in many different areas. Some were teaching it to students, others were using it in their therapy sessions, and still others designed workshops and training programmes, developed personality tests, and published papers. Some students were pursuing their doctoral thesis in areas of Indian psychology. There was one participant who had taken up studying Sanskrit and the Yogavashishta on a regular basis. Below are some of the work descriptions as reported by the participants. It gives an idea of the vast possibility of IP applications and highlights its importance.
“I have developed tests to assess personality from the IP perspective and have developed software to do the analysis. It’s online on my website and through this I reach out to students to do career and vocational guidance. I am also using it for companies/ HR depts., at the time of hiring.”
“I also conducted a workshop for teachers on Managing Stress based on Indian Psychology. Recently I helped a young girl overcome compulsive thoughts using the principles of IP.”
“In the 12 months hence, I’ve co-founded an organization called 'R' with some close friends and mentors and the mandate of the organization is to help create spaces and contexts for a deeper engagement with Yoga. Currently Yoga has become narrowly associated with the practice of Asana and Pranayama. We endeavour to create learning opportunities for fellow-travelers to see Yoga is much more than that.”
“I am working on exploring the relationships of different theories of personality with the Bhagavad-Gita’s concept of ‘Gyan’,’Bhakti’ and ‘Karma.’”
“I have started a course on personal growth and self-assessment in my institute.”
“Furthermore, we try to create awareness about the psychological dimension of Yoga in the different yoga organizations we are associated with, sharing with them the possibility of engaging with yoga from a research perspective.”
In their responses some participants mentioned the techniques and attitudes that helped them to bring about many radical changes in their work. Foremost among the techniques applied was that of self-observation. The other closely connected techniques that helped in self-awareness were learning to “stand back”, and developing the “witness consciousness”. Taking a distance from one’s own emotions and thoughts often helped to see situations more clearly and subsequently helped to take better decisions. One of the participants teaching the technique of self-observation to her students shared:
“I emphasize on the importance of awareness, consciousness, the need to observe one in all aspects. Be it the physical body, the mind, the breath, the emotions, the deeper movements such as the inner being — when they step up their awareness levels, they see a difference, a change and some pursue it keenly to get over with their problems or just to improve the quality of life.”
Another participant who is a clinical psychologist encouraged her patients to actively start the process of self-awareness. She mentioned:
“When treating patients I try to deal with their situation as unique and with the objective of leading them to a “conscious” space in which they can deal personally with their problem and not with the idea of “Healing them”. Leading with the situation is not only confronting it but also trying to understand how true it is, who made it up, and when did it start to be perceived like that.”
Meditation was another technique that helped participants in applying the teachings of IP at work; to remain silent and be anchored in “the here and the now”. It was seen as a process that allowed one to go deeper within oneself. Some participants put effort to consciously work from this deeper source as it brought more efficiency and harmony. Others mentioned doing their work in a more detached manner. They felt that they were only an instrument and the work had to be done through them. Their only concern was to make their work an offering. Some other techniques and attitudes that the participants were using in their work included listening to the subconscious, developing an intuitive understanding, identifying levels of consciousness, being respectful, patient, kind and non-judgemental toward others and having faith in the Divine.
There were also accounts of concrete changes that the participants had undergone in their work after having attended the course. The most prevalent of these was acquiring a new perspective on their work. Whether it was a teacher whose views on education had changed radically or a therapist whose definition of “successful outcome” for her patients took on a new meaning, many participants got a new understanding of their work when they began using IP as a framework. Here is what one participant wrote:
“The foundations of Indian/Integral psychology offer me valuable teachings which I try to apply in whatever I do; important keys which open up a wider and deeper way of perceiving, being and living: a sense of oneness, sensitivity, compassion, gratitude and openness to everything and everyone I encounter along this journey.”
In general, the participants reported that they had become more effective in their work. But there were a few who underwent more drastic changes in their profession. Here are some examples to illustrate the various changes the participants underwent:
“In [a] nutshell, this course changed my whole perspective, made me more open, positive and conscious. I take my life and most importantly my work with full of enthusiasm and sincerity.”
“After the course my interest in mainstream activism based on an 'us & them' framing of the world dwindled, and I started getting interested in more holistic forms of action rather than just protest and resistance.”
“Indian Psychology concepts have helped me a lot in understanding and measuring emotional intelligence and in my consulting work I use these concepts with my clients and they find the missing connection.”
“I find greater depth and enjoyment in teaching which is not only confined to cognitive knowledge but also extends to how psychology can be linked to life or to demonstrate the underlying unity behind many concepts and notions.”
“It has changed the way I deal with children, the way I look at education. Which really means that it has changed my interactions with human beings and life at large.”
“I have decided to stop teaching Psychology which is mostly western based after the course. The course has certainly given me confidence to do that.”
There were six participants who reported difficulties after the course. One of them had to take a long break from work in order to redefine her identity. She felt lost and confused after the course and it took time to believe and to assimilate all that she had learnt. For another participant too, life became extremely challenging after the course; she had difficulties in assimilating and integrating the concepts of IP in her life and had to face a lot of internal conflicts. A third participant reported that after the course she had changed so much that the significant others in her life found it very hard to accept this changed person. She had to face a period of disharmony and conflict. One participant felt for some time completely disconnected from God; there was a period of extreme disillusionment and misery. Two other participants faced fears about their progress: one feared that all the progress she had made might be stopped by her intervening ego, and the other expressed a very slow progress on his path.
There were also a few who faced external difficulties on the work front. One participant wrote that the academic world was still not open to IP and another therapist observed that the Western culture prevalent in her workplace wasn’t favourable to including Indian psychology perspectives. They found it challenging to apply in face of the resistance from the people around them or from the organization itself. To implement all that was learnt in the course in their work set-up required much thought, effort and time. But in spite of these hurdles most participants managed to include IP in whatever work they were pursuing.
The survey brought a number of interesting issues to light. The first is perhaps the enormous variety of learning that the participants took home from these courses. Even though one single course was offered to all, every participant learned his very own unique set of lessons. In the end we needed 333 different theme-tag combinations to describe the answers to the two simple questions we asked.
This said, there were a few broad categories of learning that participants mentioned most frequently. The following stood out: an increased self-awareness, a better understanding of oneself and human nature in general, an increased sense of meaning and purpose, more empathy and acceptance of others, better relationships, more over-all happiness and harmony in life and more effectiveness in work. In terms of methods that people continued to use after the course, top of the list was standing back and the development of the witness consciousness. This was followed by offering, holding up, surrendering of one’s life (and especially one’s difficulties) to a higher intelligence, power, divinity — whatever people liked to call it — for help and guidance. Next were short meditations, spread over the day.
The third thing that stands out is the overwhelmingly positive nature of the feedback. Though a few had a tough time immediately after the course, no one regretted to have taken it. In fact, amongst all the different response-items not a single one was seriously negative. The reasons given for satisfaction with the course were, on the other hand, many. For some it was the organic and experiential learning, for others “an intellectual treat”, quite a few undertook the course as a spiritual experience. One could object that this may have been simply due to a sampling error. It could be that only people who liked the courses responded. But there is some indication that this might not have been the case. Amongst the 163 participants who received the questionnaire, 36 had done the course more than once. We can safely assume that they must have been fairly satisfied with the course. Yet out of these 36, only 11 or 30% responded, while the percentage of respondents in the rest of the group was 57 out of 127, or 45%. The numbers may be too small to be statistically significant, and we offer them just for whatever they are. Another complex issue is that amongst people who have invested seriously in any kind of self-chosen activity there is a general tendency to evaluate that activity positively. And finally there is the diminishing but in India still frequently seen distorted form of "respect for elders" that expresses itself in saying what one expects teachers and elders to like. To what extent these have effected the outcome of this particular survey is impossible to say with certainty, but given the depth and subtlety of the responses, and the stress throughtout the course on honesty and sincerity, they are unlikely to have radically changed the basic direction and tone of the responses.
By far the most frequent feeling expressed about the course was one of gratitude, and that is a sentiment that is fully shared by those who offered the course. If this study shows anything at all, then it is that Indian Psychology can make a valuable contribution to the life and work of all who are engaged with it.
(1) The term ‘Indian’ in ‘Indian Psychology’ refers to the historical roots of this approach to psychology; it doesn’t indicate that this approach is restricted to people of Indian origin: it is for all of humanity.
(2) One can, of course, doubt on theoretical grounds whether such detached "objectivity" is fully possible, but the attempt was definitely made.